It's just as well that speed merchants from around the world gathered for the first-ever Formula One blast in India last weekend. In a country where most sporting parallels are drawn from cricket, one robust young lad wouldn't have minded the 'thrilla on the track' to be compared to his own
pursuit of express pace on the cricket pitch.
Varun Aaron, who just turned 22, is making waves as India's fastest-ever bowler. The Jharkhand speedster has been on the radar of selectors since he clocked a monstrous 153 km/h, comparable with efforts of the fastest bowlers the world over, in a domestic match against Gujarat early this year.
Having made millions of fans take notice, and sowed some concern among prospective rival batsmen, Varun has only whetted his appetite as the new pace prospect in Indian cricket after zipping through the England tail on his India debut in the fourth One-day International on a slow Wankhede Stadium pitch two weeks ago.
Ever since Kapil Dev made rival batsmen scramble for their helmets over three decades ago, India has steadily warmed up to genuine pace bowlers. Although the likes of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth came through, the absence of a proper fitness management system by the cricket Board has had a telling effect on them.
Varun has some distance to travel before he establishes himself but the youngster is clear on one aspect - he wants to bowl fast, and only fast. And he showed his potential to cause damage in Mumbai. More importantly, the express deliveries that crashed into the stumps of the England batsmen were all clocked at 140 km/h plus, with a good measure of reverse swing to boot.
"Fast bowlers are not made, they are born," says pace bowling expert TA Sekar. "He is very intelligent, hard-working and grasps things quickly. He is one bowler who always challenges you as a coach, demanding to know why he should change his approach. That was a refreshing difference in him."
Sekar, the head of the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai and former India paceman, drafted in a 15-year-old Varun, who wanted to do nothing but let it rip. "He is special. Even as a 17-year-old he was consistently clocking over 140 km/h," adds Sekar, who continues to guide him in the Indian Premier League's Delhi Daredevils team.
Varun comes from a fairly well-to-do family. As a schoolboy in Jamshedpur, there were other choices for him. He could have taken up hockey; his grandfather played the national game for Bihar. Or basketball, which his mother played at college and state level. But Varun wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a club-level new ball bowler who gave his son the initial encouragement and guidance.
Bowling remarkably fast for his age, Varun immediately caught the attention of Jharkhand coaches in the age-group camps. "As a boy, even at the U-14 and U-16 camps, Varun used to bowl really fast. He was not just hard-working, he was intelligent and always nursed big ambitions," says former Jharkhand coach Kajal Das.
Although India has produced fast bowlers down the years despite the absence of any culture like say West Indies, Australia or South Africa, many genuine quicks have withered away, turning into medium-pacers after being plagued by injuries, often not sure whom to turn to for corrective steps.
Varun was not spared either, having recovered from a stress fracture of the back he suffered two seasons ago. "When we took him in, we advised him to re-model his action to avoid stress injuries. He was still growing and the strain of bowling fast resulted in the back injury," says Sekar.
Varun, at around 5ft 10in, is not tall for a fast bowler but his raw pace helps the ball skid off the pitch. "(South Africa's) Dale Steyn is also not very tall but he is so effective. Height is not everything. It is the body balance that counts," adds Sekar.
The youngster was also taught a lesson on temperament after he failed to get a look-in during the England tour. When he finally got a break in Mumbai, Jharkhand senior Dhoni was at hand, talking to him after every wicket.
"Varun told me Dhoni was advising him to mix pace with reverse swing," Kajal Das reveals. That will be the perfect recipe to ruffle the feathers of batsmen in the future. The opportunity will almost certainly come during the home series against West Indies as Indian selectors try out fresh faces with the tour of Australia, starting at the end of the year, looming large.
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